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Radio Spotloads and the End of the World

I bear witness to two fascinating articles – one by Sean Ross and the other by Jim Kerr – with different takes on the future of radio's spotloads.

Thanks to the new – and dramatically lower – spotloads of radio alternatives like Pandora and Slacker, Sean concludes "“A drastically reduced spotload is going to become the new paradigm" as the "expectation of an acceptable spotload is forever redefined."

That's a response in part to Slacker VP/Strategic Development Jim Rondenelli who indicated that his service had not had a single month since early last year where they had not sold out their four minutes per hour of inventory.

I'll leave aside the fact that if Slacker is selling out their inventory then their rates are too low.  Although anyone who sells airline seats for a living knows what I'm talking about.

I'll also leave aside the notion that the truly "acceptable" volume of spots is zero as long as we're talking about spots which are indifferent to who I am and what I want.

Look, listener tolerance is not a fixed thing.  It's a value tradeoff – I will tolerate unpleasant commercials in direct proportion to the value I place on the content surrounding those commercials.  Indeed, placing the emphasis on spotloads is entirely on the wrong side of the value ledger.  We should focus on what audiences are listening for, not what they're listening in spite of.

The problem is not that we have too many spots to justify our content's value, it's that we need content strong enough to provide value worth listening for.

Isn't this why Talk Radio has so many more spots than music radio?  Because it's worth listening through the spots for the content?

Meanwhile, Jim correctly notes…

Luckily, we have data that directly compares terrestrial radio with Pandora via Ando Media’s Webcast metrics. Does this data indicate that Pandora’s lower commercial load leads to significantly longer listening times? Not at all. The data show that terrestrial radio streamers have roughly twice the TSL as Pandora listeners, even with triple the commercial load.

Why, indeed, will Slacker and Pandora reset expectations for anything besides Slacker and Pandora?

Finally, it's worth noting that spots need not be the ugly interruptions they're painted to be here.  Nor should spots be the only manner in which an advertiser connects with a consumer via radio.  This kind of thinking imagines radio to be in "the spot business" rather than in the business of connecting consumers to advertisers via all manner of distribution channels and in numerous ways.

Ultimately, Radio needs to get out of its box and out of the business of spots and dots.

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